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Chinese handbags

08 January 2013, 17:32

The thing to remember about dealing with the Chinese is that they have a different understanding of brand loyalty.

There are only 2 categories in China - Imported Luxury Brands and everything else.

There are no middle class aspirational brands in the land of fake goods. Where a brand is just a sticker that you can buy in bulk at the flea market.  

Here we have a hierarchy of brands, take for example in shoes: You would start off with the discount Pep stores brands, then move on to the Nike and Adidas, finally ending on the had crafted Italian leather.

In China, the discount brands and the name brands are viewed as the same thing. The Chinese know that often the discount and branded commodities are made in the same factory, or made by a different factory that bought the old production equipment from the branded factory. The only distinguishing factor is in the price and in China, price is king. Quality is negotiable.

Westerners look at a thing and ask “What brand made it?” see the brand then judge the product.

In China the question that is asked is “What is it made of?” and that is how the product is judged.

Take shopping for handbags as an example, from my Western perspective and limited bag related knowledge, I would review a bag and go “Oh Loius Vitton, nice”. My girlfriend - who hails from Shenzhen - looks at the same bag, notes that it is made of plastic, dismisses it and goes for the no-name brand leather bag based on the principle that leather is better than plastic.

Jewelry shopping too is a fascinating experiment in world views.

I look at the CK watch and mumble appreciatively. She picks it up, weighs it mentally and finds that the mass of gold times the latest gold price is far less than the asking price and puts it back. Then reaches for the plain, unbranded thick gold bracelet as she sees the weight of the gold as a better store of value than branding.

And this cultural viewpoint is killing our rhino.

Currently the main demand for rhino horn is not the end user medicine shops but rather it is being stockpiled as:

A) An investment 

B) A display of wealth.

The Investment perspective is simple and makes financial sense (not ethical sense). It is an investment in a product with high demand and decreasing supply, so price will go up over time.

The wealth display is a bit harder to explain. In a culture of fake brands, how do you display your status if you can’t wear a pair of Nike to say I am better than a guy who wears Pep? How can you impress your friends?

The answer is by having a chunk of something that has an inherent value on the display cabinet. If you can have a brick of gold, awesome. Or some gems. But those are normally left in the safe and it is a bit crass to say “Hey come over to my safe and look at my stuff”.

But a horn in a display case. That is a different matter altogether.

That is why here in South Africa find it so difficult to reduce the demand side for horn, if anything the Save the Rhino advertising in China is promoting the investment in horn stockpiling as the public becomes more aware of the reduction in supply.

It will take a long time for attitudes in the East to move toward a conservationist mindset regarding natural resources. And I hope that we will still have Rhino around when that happens. 

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